“New phone, who dis?” Just kidding.
I’ve gotten a lot of requests to write a post on tips for working with brands. To be honest, I was a bit hesitant to do this and not because I didn’t want to share the info with you, but because there really is no set guideline or specific rulebook to follow. Even after 5 1/2 years, I am still learning as I go. I’ve made so many mistakes and I’ve definitely gotten burned by a few brands along the way, but thankfully every situation has taught me something new and made me a smarter business woman. I’m extremely appreciative to have had all of these incredible opportunities, whether big or small, and to be able to do this full-time and call it my career. Not sure if I ever announced, but Naty Michele is an official LLC! Even after all of this though, it is STILL a work in progress. While I can’t give you an exact formula to success when it comes to working with brands, I can share my experiences and the lessons that I’ve learned. I have a feeling this is going to be a long one, so grab that cup of coffee or tea and sit with me.
I should probably start this off by saying that I work with brands through one-off sponsored posts and long-term campaigns for both my blog and/or social media. I will only work with brands I love, believe in, trust, currently use or have used, and want to know/learn more about. I do not take on every project and truthfully say no to anything that does not feel like a good fit. These partnerships should always be extremely organic and authentic to you and your voice. You should be excited about creating the content. It should make sense. It shouldn’t feel forced or like you are only doing it for the money. I believe that this is the main reason some people view #sponsored, #paid and #ad in such a negative light. Your readers will totally see right through you and know when you are not being honest. If you want to keep their trust, then you have to be able to say no when projects don’t align with your brand. This is crucial.
How I Got Started
I’ll give you a rundown of how I personally began working with brands. Back in the day, it started out with receiving gifted product in exchange for posts on the blog or social media. I didn’t really know exactly what all of this meant just yet, so I pretty much said yes to everything. I also didn’t know or realize at the time that I should be charging for my time, efforts and content creation, so I did a lot of things for free and because of that I got taken advantage of, a lot. I was honestly so grateful to be getting free products and I didn’t really understand that this was becoming the new form of digital marketing. Even though I was not being monetarily compensated in the beginning, it was a good way for me to start creating content and building up a little network of brands and contacts. I did make some amazing relationships this way and still connect with some of those brands today. Do I still accept gifted product? Of course, but the understanding now is that there’s no requirement for me to post. If I love something that was sent my way, I’ll typically share it, but there is no pressure, expectation or timeline to do so.
After speaking with other bloggers and receiving a few emails asking for my rates, I learned that I should in fact be charging and I deserved to be paid for my work. How the hell do you know what to charge though, right? This was my initial question. I had no idea what to base it off and didn’t have many resources to provide me with these answers. I literally just came up with my own numbers at the time and I was totally undercharging for my work. I believe the first job I ever got paid for on the blog I charged only $50 or $75 and this was back around 2013. After doing it that way for a little while, I then learned about the importance of media kits. One of my friends helped me create one and at that point I increased my rates a little more to I think maybe $200 or so for a sponsored blog post. I was testing the waters. It was a process. I then increased my rates more. Then, I signed up with networks like Glam Media, [do you remember them?!] and PopSugar Select, who brought me brand work. One of my first big paid campaigns back then was with Target and I booked it through Glam. It was such an incredible feeling that I will never forget and that is when I started to realize what this blogging world was becoming.
Flash forward to the summer of 2015- I signed exclusively with an agency called Socialyte, who then managed all my campaigns and set my rates. This meant that I had to give them a percentage of every job I booked. I remember when they told me how much I should be charging. I couldn’t believe how much I had been selling myself short. In full transparency, this is when I began to book a lot more work at much higher rates. It helped me tremendously because I finally saw what I deserved to be making. One thing I learned in this whole process was that this job is not easy and it is not glamorous, despite what others may think. It’s time consuming and it’s challenging. So much tedious, back-end stuff is involved. I continued to work hard at the quality of my content and learned as much as I could from the agency. They served as such an amazing resource and still do. In the beginning of 2016, I went from exclusive to non-exclusive, which meant that they were still my agency, but I was back to managing myself full-time. I’ve been doing so ever since. I remember being so nervous to manage myself again, but now I knew the minimums of what to charge, I understood contracts much better and I knew how to fight for myself and what I deserved. I’m back at a point where about 90% of the projects that I bring in are all on my own and I hustle every day to make that happen. I do all the negotiating and I handle the details directly with the PR companies. It can be challenging, but I can’t lie. I’m proud of the journey.
The point in me sharing all of this with you is to show that it did not happen over night. It truly has been a long process, but I love how it all transitioned so organically. It took time for me to book work consistently enough to the point where I could make a living from it. A little piece of advice is that you should not have the same set rate for everything, as each project is going to be different from the next. Some campaigns might require you to attend events and participate in photo/video projects, while others will require you to take photos for your social media channels or blog. Some are one-off posts, while others can continue throughout the year. Make sure to ask questions and get as much information as you need before quoting your rates to a brand. I wish I could tell you what to charge. I wish I could give you an exact number, but I can’t. Rates vary depending on SO many different factors from your own personal stats to the brand’s deliverables. Don’t sell yourself short and don’t be afraid to negotiate. You have to fight for yourself when you know you deserve more. Feel it out and take it as a case by case scenario. I’ve definitely taken on work at lower budgets sometimes when I love a brand and want to start building a relationship with them. By doing this, it has led to larger opportunities down the road.
When To Charge More
One of the greatest parts about being signed exclusively to my agency was that they handled all the contracts. When I started managing myself again, I had to know exactly what to look out for. I learned to dissect them. I researched, asked my agency a lot of questions and consulted with a lawyer. Here are a few big things to note.
Exclusivity Clauses – You need to know if a specific project has an exclusivity clause in the contract as some brands do not divulge this information up front. These clauses can last anywhere from several weeks to several months and in some cases even a year. This means that throughout this duration, you legally can not work with the brands listed out in the contract. So in essence, it can take away other paid opportunities from you.
Digital Usage Rights – Typically, brands will state in the contract that they can and will repost your images to their social media channels giving you full credit. Sometimes though, they want full digital usage rights, which basically means that they can create digital ads on the Internet with your content. Essentially this can be anything from ads on Instagram and Facebook to ad banners on different websites, not just theirs. I won’t get into all the details, but I was involved in a campaign once where the latter happened and I saw ad banners literally everywhere! I will just say I should have charged more for the usage and it was a lesson learned. Make sure that you are 100% aware of how the brand plans to use your content. I ask 10000 questions.
Print Usage Rights – This is typically for larger scale campaigns. Just like with giving digital usage rights, sometimes the brand wants print usage rights so that they can share the content as print ads in magazines, etc. Just to give a quick example, this came into play when I had my photo ad up in CVS last year. Usually with a larger scale project, this is going to be discussed up front as it plays a huge factor in your rate, but always check through the contract! I know it sounds pretty obvious, but you would be surprised how many can skip over these things.
How To Connect With Brands
I think the biggest question is always HOW? How exactly do you get to work with brands? How do they find you or how do you get in contact with them for sponsored posts and campaigns? Most of the time PR companies are going to find you through social media and your blog. I’ve had some of them find me via LinkedIn and Fohr Card too. Sometimes I will get in contact with them via an influencer network like Collectively, Tapfluence, RewardStyle, PopSugar, etc. There are tons of them. These are great ways to land collaborations, especially in the beginning, and I still work with some of them from time-to-time. Another way of course is to sign on with an agency, where they can help to bring you more consistent work. But, maybe you don’t want to go that route and maybe you don’t want to sit around and wait for something to pop-up into your inbox. I don’t blame you. This is where pitching brands comes into play. I have to admit that I don’t do this too often, but I have done it before and think more bloggers should do it. Majority of the time I do it when I’m pitching hotels for travel. You can search for these contacts via Google or LinkedIn. I typically find my hotel contacts via TripAdvisor! That’s how I worked with the hotel in Paris. Sometimes you might be able to get their information directly from social media or from the press section of their website. I’ve actually had a lot of success with this via Twitter and even Instagram direct messages. I’ve asked for their PR contacts before so that I could send an email. It will depend on the brand though.
When reaching out to pitch a brand, you want your initial email to be descriptive, brief and to the point. They should have a clear understanding of who you are, what you do and what you can bring to the table. Give them a quick overview of your social media stats, monthly unique views and of course, hyperlink your blog. Don’t just tell them you want to collaborate, but be specific with how you can work together. How would this be beneficial to the both of you? What value can you offer? Let them know you have a media kit to send on request. Don’t get discouraged if your numbers are low. While yes these can play a big role, they are not the be all end all. Let them see your strengths. You may have way less of a following than others, but your engagement can be extremely high with a strong community of readers who invest their time in you and your content. My advice would be to still pitch the brands that you want to work with regardless. The worst case scenario is that they don’t reply. Sometimes that will happen and that’s ok. If I don’t hear back within the first week, I will typically send a follow-up email. The best case scenario is that you get to work with them or you now have a contact for future reference. Keep on building!
Another amazing way to connect with brands is in person at events, press previews or meetings. When you get an email pitch from a PR company, take some time and research. Go on their website. What brands do they represent? Could this be a good fit for you? Do they have offices in your area? If so, take the initiative to set up some face time. It’s always beneficial and in your favor to let them meet you in person beyond the blog and beyond the Instagram feed. You might not book work with them right away, but they will remember you and this can lead to opportunities in the future. I’ve had several showroom visits and coffee meetings because of this. Networking is essential, just don’t forget to let your personality shine through!
Get On The Phone
This has become a big one for me. Once I am interested in working with a brand, I like to hop on a quick call with them to discuss details further. Things can get lost in translation or taken out of context via email, so I suggest speaking with the PR company or brand directly on a call. List out all the questions that you have about the campaign and/or contract and take notes for reference. This is a great way to feel out the project and verify that it is in fact the right fit for you. I’ve actually had a few instances in the past where I was interested in taking on a campaign, but once we spoke on the phone and discussed things in greater detail, I realized that it was not the right partnership for me after all. This has also helped me tremendously when campaigns have multiple deliverables and need to be spread out over several months. Always ask questions and don’t hesitate to initiate a call.
Long-term Partnerships Are Very Beneficial
I personally prefer to take on long-term partnerships whenever I can. This means that you are not just doing one blog post or one Instagram and then are done with the project. It means that you are booking work with the same brand over the course of an extended period of time. This can be anywhere from 3 months to a year. This is very beneficial because it builds a much stronger working relationship with the brand. More trust is created between you and your audience. You are able to provide greater value and because of this, you can also bring in more money with these long-term campaigns. This is another huge reason why you should only work with brands you truly love. Can you imagine forcing a 6-month partnership with a brand that doesn’t make sense for you at all? Not a good look and that’s not fun for anyone.
Invest In The Quality Of Your Content
When I redesigned my site and completely rebranded to Naty Michele last year, it seemed as though my opportunities doubled and almost instantly. The same thing seemed to happen when I upgraded my lens and started producing even better quality photos. It’s not cheap by any means, but it is an investment that is totally worth it in the end. You don’t have to do all of these things at once, but you want to ensure that your content improves more and more over time. Remember, you can’t expect your blog/business to grow if you are not nurturing it. The more you grow, the more the opportunities will start to come.
There is probably more that I could write on this topic, but I don’t want to overwhelm you guys with too much. I just realized that I have been writing this post for hours! Keep in mind that things work differently for everyone, but this is how it happened for me. Let me know if you have any questions that I didn’t cover and I will do my best to address them! I am planning to do another Blogger Edition post very soon related to this topic so that I can provide feedback from different perspectives. I sincerely hope that this was helpful for you, especially if you are a newbie blogger! Any specific tips that you have? Feel free to share them with me! Thanks so much for taking the time to read this. You guys rock. ❤️